Those wondering whether Himmelsmusik falls on the experimental side of the output of Austrian-born ensemble leader and continuo player Christina Pluhar and her ensemble L'Arpeggiata can rest easy: there is nothing here in the vein of Pluhar's aptly titled Handel Gone Wild. Instead, Pluhar, countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, and her musicians play it straight and deliver a lovely album from the generally neglected German mid-Baroque, and from almost unknown music within that classification. Not all the music pertains to heaven, as the title might suggest; other topics (such as the Christ child) appear, but all the pieces have a calm, worshipful flavor. Pluhar's focus is the music between Schütz and Bach, with both of those composers added at the end to sum up the territory that has been covered. A major presence is French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, who certainly can attract bigger clients; his participation is a clue to the music's worth. Some of the composers have direct connections with one or the other (Johann Theile was one of Schütz's last and best students, and the J.C. Bach on the program is not Johann Christian Bach or even Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, but the Arnstadt composer and organist Johann Christoph Bach, Johann Sebastian's first cousin once removed, some of whose later works were for a time accepted as J.S.'s own. Generally speaking, the vocal pieces are solo vocal "concertos" or arias that experiment with the Schütz model, finding new ways to express the texts as dramatic utterances. Sample Franz Tunder's Ein kleines Kindelein, with its substantial introduction and then its text that pours out in a single thought. The composers were aided in their quest by new developments in Italian instrumental music, some of which is included. Tunder shows up on organ programs, but the likes of Crato Bütner, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, and Johann Rudolf Ahle will be unfamiliar even to Baroque enthusiasts. The music of some was mostly destroyed during World War II; others worked in obscure or distant courts and never made it into the history books. Pluhar's effort at reconstruction is impressive, and Jaroussky is an ideal collaborator; their music-making can be enjoyed by anyone. A deep dive of the very best kind.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim